Lyft Asks Alberta Government to Drop Commercial Licence Requirement

Michelle Bellefontaine, CBC News:

Ride-hailing company Lyft is lobbying the Alberta government in hopes the province will lift the commercial licence requirement for drivers introduced in 2016.

Drivers for ride-hailing services require a Class 4 Alberta licence. Lyft wants the province to drop that requirement and allow anyone with a Class 5 general licence to drive for them.

“Lyft believes that Alberta should join the provinces of Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan in adopting modern regulations for the passenger transportation industry,” the company said in a statement.

What a load of crap. Uber has been operating in Calgary and Edmonton since late 2016 under the existing law, which requires drivers to hold exactly the same license as a taxi driver because they do exactly the same job. While Lyft may publicly praise Ontario’s more lenient licensing requirements, it fails to note that drivers in Toronto must obtain a specific license. The city paused new licensees while existing holders complete training after a passenger in an Uber was killed because the driver dropped his cellphone.

I am not sure if I have relayed this story before, but the regulation of pirate taxi services in Alberta is an excellent example of what can be done when policymakers stick to common-sense standards in the face of political pressure.

After a brief false start in 2014, Uber launched in Calgary illegally — as it is wont to do — in October 2015. After about two months and with drivers facing several criminal charges, Uber agrees to stop operating in the city. This is their familiar playbook: operate illegally, and wait for regulators to succumb to public pressure. Indeed, there was plenty of anger and fury across the board, from the public at large to national magazines.

But the city held out. Calgary city councillors proposed a bylaw to regulate these services, each element of which Uber called “unworkable”. A single element of the legislation was adjusted to create a different administrative fee structure.

Guess what? Uber has been operating and thriving in this city for nearly six years under a legal structure they claimed would not work for its business. Drivers need to get a police background check, they need to complete specific training, they need to complete the same vehicle inspection as a taxi driver, and drivers need to hold insurance that permits use for companies like Uber. An Uber in Calgary means drivers have the same responsibility as taxi drivers, and passengers have the same expectations — as it should be.

This episode is proof that regulators can and should grow a spine. Uber and Lyft are app-based taxi businesses; their users deserve the same consumer protections as any other kind of transportation service. What Lyft is asking for is an adjustment to the provincial law but, make no mistake, Calgary’s stringent municipal laws are surely next on its list of things to weaken.